Bahrain: Bahrain: Reprisals continue against human rights defenders, especially those engaging in international advocacy

20.07.16

Reprisals against human rights defenders continue unabated in Bahrain, which includes travel bans on independent human rights defenders and journalists, among members of civil society. Most recently, human rights defenders were banned from travel, while prominent human rights defenders have been prevented from family activities or calls. This follows bans on dozens of human rights defenders and others from traveling to the United Nations in June.

According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), three human rights defenders were banned from leaving the country on 08 July 2016. Human rights lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer was prevented from traveling to Saudi Arabia, but when he queried the passport and immigration authorities, he was not provided with any official confirmation or justification for the ban. Sharaf Al-Mosawi, head of the Bahrain Transparency Association, was also prevented from traveling to Saudi Arabia that same day, and Zainab Al-Khamis, a member of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO), was prevented from going to Kuwait.

Likewise, the authorities prevented journalist Nazeeha Saeed from traveling at Bahrain International airport on 29 June 2016. Saeed, a France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo correspondent in Bahrain, said on her twitter account: “Public prosecutor, criminal investigations & immigration confirmed no ban from travel, but I was sent back again at King Fahd Causeway!!”

On 17 July 2016, Saeed was summoned to the Public Prosecution where Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) accused her of allegedly "practising journalism without a permit." The IAA claims the journalist has violated Article 88 of Law Decree 47/2002 that regulates the Press, Printing and Publication, because her permit has expired.

On 18 June 2016, human rights defender and writer Abdulnabi Al-Ekry was banned from traveling to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates from Bahrain International Airport. Al-Ekry is the former President of Bahrain Transparency Society and a member of the BHRO. The previous week, eight people were prevented from attending the UN Human Rights Council’s 32nd session, including Hussain Radhi of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

According to BCHR, at least two dozen human rights defenders and other members of civil society have been banned from travel in the past two months. For example, on 13 June, Jalila Al-Salman, Vice-President of the dissolved Bahrain Teachers Society and member of BHRO, was prevented from traveling to Oslo to receive the 2015 Arthur Svensson Prize in recognition of her union activism and commitment to human rights issues.

Nabeel Rajab, GCHR Founding Director, President of BCHR and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, has also been under a travel ban since 2014, concurrent with several cases for which he has been imprisoned repeatedly. Rajab is currently being held in poor conditions in jail, awaiting the next hearing of his trial on 2 August 2016 on a case related to tweets about human rights. He was refused release on bail despite several medical conditions and there is serious concern for his health, as he has been in jail since his arrest on 13 June on charges related to his free expression.

In addition, the authorities refused to release Rajab to attend the funeral on 13 July 2016 of his uncle, who died the day before. According to Bahraini law, he is entitled to attend the funeral of a relative, subject to the approval of the authorities. This is an indication that reprisals against human rights defenders have intensified, because in 2012, Rajab was able to leave prison to attend the funeral of his mother.

In a strange coincidence, the uncle of another GCHR Founding Director, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, also passed away on 12 July and Al-Khawaja was likewise refused permission to attend the funeral. Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence on charges related to his human rights activism, is among a group of human rights defenders and political activists collectively known as the Bahrain 13. The family reports that the Bahrain 13 have not been able to make phone calls since 26 June 2016.

GCHR welcomes the attention from the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, who said, “In a further intensification of their crackdown on dissent, Bahraini authorities have in recent weeks detained a prominent human rights defender and subjected several others to travel bans; deprived individuals of their nationality; and dissolved three organisations, including the country’s largest opposition group.”

GCHR condemns the systematic and repeated attempts by the Bahraini government to target human rights defenders and other activists who are co-operating with international mechanisms and in particular the UN system. We believe that this recent intensified trend of targeting all individuals who have any links with the international community is a very serious development aimed at isolating the Bahrain human rights movement from having any co-operation with the international community.

Therefore, GCHR repeats its calls for the authorities in Bahrain to:

1. Uphold the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in Bahrain’s constitution and allow human rights defenders to travel freely in the pursuit of their work, particularly when they are engaging with the UN system, and drop travel bans against them;

2. Allow all prisoners access to phone calls with their families, and the rights guaranteed to them under the law, including the right to attend funerals of family members; and

3. Immediately release all human rights defenders, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and ensure their protection from reprisals including harassment, torture, and persecution in relation to their peaceful human rights activities.